Phone doctor prescribes cell phone etiquette

Monday, October 15, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- The self-described Telephone Doctor has a favorite cellular phone horror story:

Nancy Friedman, who travels nationwide conducting seminars on customer service and telephone etiquette, was waiting in line in a Las Vegas bathroom when she heard a phone ring -- then a one-sided conversation -- from a closed stall.

Friedman has made a living helping others polish their cellular phone etiquette, but even she was left speechless by the bathroom call -- a bad example of mobile phone manners. "I can heal the sick," she said, recalling the incident, "but I cannot raise the dead."

In 1983, Friedman started her business after getting shoddy treatment from her insurance agency. She complained to the company's boss, who asked her for advice on how to make it better. Shortly after her first impromptu talk on customer service and phone skills, a business was born.

Many gray areas

Common sense, at least when it comes to cellular civility, is apparently not so common.

"The ground rules haven't been set," Friedman said.

She said some bad manners, like leaving a cell phone ringer on in a theater, are well-established. But what about taking a call in a restaurant or in a bathroom or while waiting in line? Or having what should be a private conversation in public?

Her cardinal rule: "Take yourself and your cell phone to an area where you're not disturbing others. It's that simple."

But not everyone is answering that call. And with a growing number of wireless phone users -- an estimated 119 million in the United States, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association -- it seems likely that "reach out and touch someone" is bound to clash with those who'd rather reach out and muzzle an offending cell phone user.

"It's almost like smoking, and how no one wants a smoker right near them," Friedman said.

No one loves telephones more than Friedman, she said, and like others she appreciates how cell phones can be invaluable during crises.

"There are nice ways to use cell phones," she said.

Other ways, she said, seem just plain silly, such as when a wireless user calls someone while on an airplane just to say they're, well, on an airplane.

Legal changes ahead

More seriously, legal changes are afoot for cell phones in states where lawmakers have been moved by stories of distracted drivers. At least 43 states considered legislation in 2001 restricting cell phone use while driving. Many states have considered requiring drivers to use hands-free devices.

So far, New York is the only state to pass such legislation. Miami-Dade County recently passed an ordinance that bans motorists from using cell phones while driving unless using a hands-free device.

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